January 31, 2017 at 8:57 pm EST | by Nicolás Levy
Chilean president to promote marriage bill debate
United Nations LGBT Core Group, gay news, Washington Blade

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet speaks at a United Nations LGBT Core Group event in New York on Sept. 21, 2016. She announced on Jan. 20, 2017, her government will formally promote a debate around a same-sex marriage bill. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Chilean government has formally begun the long-delayed process through which citizens can debate a proposed marriage equality bill.

President Michelle Bachelet made the announcement on Jan. 20 at La Moneda Palace, fulfilling one of her most long-awaited campaign promises she made before she was elected president for a second term in 2013: The beginning of a debate over granting same-sex couples the right to marry.

In the presence of public officials and representatives of local sexual diversity organizations, Bachelet reconfirmed her government’s commitment to an open and participatory conversation.

“The process will allow the country to generate a satisfactory bill on marriage equality, recognizing the same rights for everyone,” she said.

The Movement for the Integration and Liberation of Homosexuals, a Chilean advocacy group known by the Spanish acronym MOVILH, in 2012 filed a lawsuit with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of three Chilean couples whose overseas marriages were not recognized within Chile. The Bachelet government in 2015 announced it would no longer oppose same-sex marriage as part of an amicable mediation process between Chile and MOVILH that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights brokered.

Bachelet said her government’s decision to begin formal debate on the marriage equality bill is not only a response to an international judicial action, but a “legitimate demand from Chilean society.” This coincides with the results of the latest survey on the perception of gay rights in Chile that shows a historic 64 percent of Chileans support of marriage equality, 14 percent higher than the results of the first survey that was conducted in January 2014.

Bill not a priority

Bachelet announced the process will end before June 30 when a marriage equality bill is sent to Congress. Organizations fighting for sexual diversity have also presented three initiatives.

The government’s willingness to support a debate on the issue has been perceived as a symbol towards ending discrimination against the LGBTI community, but some movement leaders have rejected the decision not to consider the marriage equality bill among the government’s top 48 initiatives to become law before Bachelet’s term ends in March 2018.

Luis Larraín, executive director of Fundación Iguales, has said La Moneda had assured him and other activists that marriage equality would be expedited and was not only a “testimonial” bill to be reviewed by the next government.

“We’re disappointed they changed their minds,” he said on social media. “What is this commitment? Do they really believe in equal rights and the acknowledgement of all types of families all the way, or only half way?”

Marriage and the right to form a family

Organizations expect a more thorough bill that also takes into account matters that only the president can legislate, such as those involving tax expenditures. They have also been clear in saying they will only accept a bill that includes reforms on the legal relationship between a parent and child and allowing gay and lesbian couples to become parents.

This is a very controversial topic, given the fact that most conservative groups in Chilean society oppose it.

Larraín insists it’s about resolving a very prolonged situation that makes same-sex families extremely vulnerable.

“Children who already have two fathers or mothers are not protected when, in case of death or separation, they have legal ties to only one of their parents,” he said.

Same-sex marriage advocates protest in Santiago, Chile., in September 2016. (Photo courtesy of Francisca Becker)

Same-sex marriage advocates protest in Santiago, Chile., in September 2016. (Photo courtesy of Francisca Becker)

Larraín also states marriage equality is an opportunity to broaden adoption laws.

For MOVILH spokesperson Óscar Rementería, the marriage equality bill is about a basic issue in the fight for equal rights.

“When we talk about marriage equality, we talk about the traditional concept of marriage being extended to same sex couples. This includes, in every case, the legal relationship between a parent and child and the right to adopt,” he said. “If these matters were not considered, it would not be a marriage bill.”

Same-sex marriage advocates protest in Santiago, Chile., in September 2016. (Photo courtesy of Francisca Becker)

Same-sex marriage advocates protest in Santiago, Chile., in September 2016. (Photo courtesy of Francisca Becker)

Nicolás Levy is a Chilean journalist who specializes in LGBT human rights. He is a correspondent for the Washington Blade in Santiago, Chile.

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